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Australian company aims high as US declares massive solar target

As this masthead reported last month, Sun Cable is planning to announce a “significantly bigger” project already touted to be some $22 billion and 14-gigawatt solar capacity. Large solar plants in Australia are typically a couple of 100 megawatts in size.

Solar’s potential also received another tick with the Biden administration declaring the energy source could supply as much as 40 per cent of US electricity by 2035, up from about 4 per cent now.

“Multi-gigawatt scale dispatchable solar installations will increasingly become the norm through the 2020s,” David Griffin, Sun Cable’s chief executive, said. “5B’s Maverick technology is ideally suited for giga-scale deployment, given its efficient use of land and optimal balance between low capital cost, diurnal production profile, quality control and the ease and speed of installation.”

5B staffer Victor Rego (left) shows new head of product development Lloyd Niccol a set of the firm’s pre-fabricated solar modules in Kurnell, Sydney.

5B staffer Victor Rego (left) shows new head of product development Lloyd Niccol a set of the firm’s pre-fabricated solar modules in Kurnell, Sydney. Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

To fund 5B’s continued expansion, including a move to new facilities near Sydney’s Mascot Airport by the end of October, the company is in the midst of raising as much as $50 million in its latest capital raising. The firm is also ramping up plans for a factory in Darwin, and expanding its operations abroad, from Chile to the US and India.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had invested in 5B last year and would decide on making a further investment, adding his venture capital companies typically outlay more than $500,000 per foray.

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“The world needs much more solar energy as quickly as possible,” Mr Turnbull said. “Chris McGrath leads a brilliant young team which embodies all of the values we like to support: disruptive Australian innovation [and] great engineering powering the clean energy transition the world needs.”

Jonathan Upson, a veteran of the Australian renewable energy industry, said he was present in Perth three years ago at the first public demonstration of the technology.

“I was so impressed by the simplicity and innovation of 5B’s approach,” Mr Upson said. “It’s terrific to see younger Australian entrepreneurs start and grow a new business in such an important worldwide industry.”

From its first project of just 80 kilowatts in 2017, 5B has installed about 40 megawatts over 50 sites in Australia. It has installed as much as 1 megawatt of capacity a week with just three people.

“We’re expecting to be at gigawatt-scale orders, possibly by 2022 but certainly deploying gigawatts a year by 2023,” Mr McGrath said. “We’ve got a solution to drive a huge amount of growth in a market that doesn’t have a ceiling right now.”

Liam Mannix’s Examine newsletter explains and analyses science with a rigorous focus on the evidence. Sign up to get it each week.

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